Five ways to beat the winter blues

While some songs might suggest that winter is the most wonderful time of the year, for many people that’s not always the case.

As occupational health specialists, we’re well aware of the effect that the seasons can have on people’s mental health.

At this time of year, it’s important for both employers and their staff to be aware of the fact that some might be suffering from what most people would describe as the “winter blues”.

The medical name for this winter depression is seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Here are a few facts that could improve the health and wellbeing of employees and help them beat the winter blues.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern. 

It is sometimes called the “winter blues” or winter depression because the symptoms are usually more apparent and more severe during the winter months.

What are the symptoms of the winter blues?

Symptoms of winter depression or SAD can include:

  • A persistent low mood
  • A loss of pleasure or interest in everyday activities
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness
  • Lacking energy and feeling sleepy during the day
  • Sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning
  • Craving carbohydrates and gaining weight

For some people, these symptoms can be severe and have a significant impact on their daily life.

If you think you might have SAD and you’re struggling to cope, speak to your GP.

If your employer offers occupational health services, you should ask them for help and support.

What causes the winter blues?

There is sound scientific evidence to support the idea that the season can affect our moods.

Most scientists believe that the problem is related to the way the body responds to daylight. 

Also known as the body’s circadian clock, this is an internal timekeeper that tells us when to feel sleepy and when to wake up.

In the winter months, this circadian clock can be disrupted by the lack of daylight.

Five tips to beat those winter blues

So what can you do to beat the winter blues?

Here are a few tips on how you can go from SAD to H-A-P-P-Y.

1. Get more light

If the winter blues is about lack of daylight, it’s no surprise that treatment usually involves getting more light into your life.

If you feel low in winter, get outside as often as you can, especially on bright days. Sitting by a window can also help. 

Escaping the dark winter days with a holiday somewhere sunny can be effective for some. However, some people have found that their condition gets worse when they return to the UK.

Light therapy is often used to treat SAD. This involves sitting in front of or beneath a lightbox that produces a very bright light. Your GP can give you more information.

2. Eat yourself happy (but always eat well)

When it’s cold and dark outside, it can be tempting to fill up on unhealthy comfort food. It’s important to eat well during the winter. 

Winter blues can make you crave sugary foods and carbohydrates such as chocolate, pasta and bread.

Just don’t overindulge during the winter and make sure that you eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Instead of a sugary treat, have a festive satsuma.

Winter vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, swede and turnips can be roasted, mashed or made into soup for a comforting winter meal for the whole family.

3. Get active

Keeping active is another lethal weapon against the seasonal slump of SAD and winter depression.

Activity is believed to change the level of the mood-regulating chemical serotonin in the brain. 

It can also help by providing a pleasant change of scenery and helping you meet new people.

Why not join a local walking group, or set one up with your work colleagues? 

They’re a great way to enjoy some daylight activity.

4. Get a good night’s sleep

We can’t stress how important it is to get a good night’s sleep

Many people feel tired and sluggish during winter because of the lack of sunlight, which disrupts our sleep and waking cycles.

Make sure that you have a regular sleep pattern. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.

Stress has also been shown to make you feel tired so try and relax with moderate exercise, yoga or meditation.

5. Boost your immune system

You are more likely to get a cold in winter, which is likely to make you feel even more under the weather. So make sure your immune system is in tip-top condition.

Milk and dairy products such as cheese, yoghurt and fromage frais are great sources of protein, vitamins and calcium.

Choose low-fat plain yoghurts and semi-skimmed or skimmed milk rather than full-fat.

 

Above all, when it comes to beating the winter blues, it’s important to get out and about, eat well and stay active.

But if you think that seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is starting to affect your daily life, you should speak to your GP.

If you’d like to find out how we support the mental health of employees all year round, contact the team at Fusion today

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Categories: EmployeesHealth & WellbeingMental HealthOccupational Health

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